Roscelin of Compiègne

views updated


French dialectician and reputed founder of early medieval nominalism; b. c. 1050; d. 1125. He studied at Soissons and Rheims, taught at Compiègne, Loches (where Abelard was his pupil), Besançon, and Tours. In 1092 at the synod of Soissons he was accused of tritheism. Although he denied holding tritheism, he nevertheless recanted. Nothing remains of his writings except an abusive letter to Abelard on the Trinity; our knowledge of his thought is derived almost entirely from his adversaries, St. Anselm and Abelard. In the controversy on universals, he appears as an extreme antirealist. In nature only the individual subsists; genera and species are not realities, but verbal expressions in general form (voces, flatus vocis ). This may mean that universals have no kind of objective reality except a verbal one, or it may simply be an emphatic repudiation of the formal subsistence of universals, which does not exclude some form of conceptual universal. His theory was later described as that of the nomina, whence arose the term "nominalist." john of salisbury interpreted him as having held the crude form of nominalism (sententia vocum ). Roscelin's tritheism is based partly on the Boethian definition of a person as rationalis naturae individua substantia, and partly on his nominalism. The three divine persons are three realities or substances (res per se ), like three angels or souls. Were they but one reality, he argued, all three persons would have become incarnate. He concluded that, if usage permitted, they could well be called three gods. To save the dogma, Roscelin allowed that the divine persons were one in will and power.

Bibliography: Roscelin's letter to Abelard in j. reiners', "Der Nominalismus in der Frühscholastik," Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters 8.5 (1910) 6280 (literature). peter abelard, Ep. 14, Patrologia latina 178:355358; Dialectica, ed. l. m. de rijk, (Assen 1956) X, 554555. anselm of canterbury, Epp. 128, 129, 136, 147 in Opera omnia, ed. f. s. schmitt, 6 v. (Edinburgh 194661) v.3; Ep. de Incarnatione Verbi, 12, ibid., v.2. john of salisbury, Metalogicon, bk. 2.17, ed. c. c. j. webb (Oxford 1929), ed. and tr. d. d. mcgarry (Berkeley 1955); Policraticus, ed. c. c. j. webb 2 v. (Oxford 1909). Literature. f. j. picavet, Roscelin: Philosophe et théologien, d'après la légende et d'après l'histoire (2d ed. Paris 1911). m. m. gorce, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 13.2:291115. m. m. c. de wulf, History of Mediaeval Philosophy, tr. e. c. messenger, 2 v. (3d ed. New York 193538) v.1. f. corvino, Enciclopedia filosofica 4:205206.

[f. courtney]